Laughing gas helps women with pain of childbirth

Mindy Betthauser is 37 weeks pregnant, and getting ready to try a new way of dealing with the pain of childbirth: nitrous oxide, or laughing gas.

It's long been used to help patients get through painful dental procedures like root canals.

Her delivery center, St. Luke's Hospital in Tempe, Arizona, recently started offering laughing gas to women looking for another option for pain relief besides undergoing an epidural or using narcotic pain medications.

"Everything seems to be safe with the baby so I think it's definitely think it's a great option," Betthauser says.

She had an epidural during her first delivery. This time, Betthauser wants more control.

"I want to be able to get up and walk around, but a little extra help with pain management might help with my energy levels," she says.

Betthauser's OBGYN at St. Luke's Hospital, Dr. Greg Marchand, says nitrous oxide reduces pain, but it allows the mother to be more "present" in the birthing process.

"This is completely patient-controlled," Dr. Marchand says. "Mindy can give herself as much or as little of the nitrous oxide as she feel she needs, and it's very safe."

When Betthauser has a contraction, she'll take a deep breath, releasing the gas, which will relieve her pain in about 30 seconds.

"Because the mask includes a 50 percent blend of nitrous oxide and oxygen, she's actually getting more oxygen while she has the masks on her face than we are just breathing in the room here," Dr. Marchand says.

Women in other countries, like Canada and Finland, routinely use nitrous oxide during childbirth.

Since the gas is short-acting, Dr. Marchand says it won't cause side effects for the mom or her baby.

And the child won't be born sleepy or sedate.

Mindy Betthauser will be giving birth to a girl, her second. She's excited to have another option to relieve her pain.